Tag Archives: steadfastness

Following God includes loyalty — Esther 3

Following God includes loyalty — Esther 3:2, 5-6
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 21, 2013 AM

Sandra struggled with two seemingly irreconcilable forces in her life. She believed God had called her to be a missionary but she could not believe He would send her to such a dangerous place. Like many Christians Sandra has falsely assumed God’s primary function is to protect, preserve, and prosper His people. They focus on Scriptures that affirm God’s love and care for His own. These believers assume God would not lead them to serve Him where they would be uncomfortable, much less, where there is potential danger. However, God’s objective is to carry out His purposes through His people. Those purposes may require His people to serve Him at great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith as they serve Him in the risky situations into which He leads them. Perhaps we forget that following God includes loyalty even when there is risk involved.

The plot of the Book of Esther thickens in chapter 3 with the introduction of the villain. A man named Haman accepted a promotion by King Xerxes to a position of prestige and power. The office to which he was elevated is not stated, but several details about Haman are noted. His father’s name was Hammedatha. He was an Agagaite, which identifies him as a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites during the era of Israel’s early monarchy. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, teaches us that following God includes loyalty. Let’s discover what occurs…

READ: Esther 3:1-6

One cannot sort-of-kind-of follow God and expect God’s blessings. King Saul failed to learn this lesson and his disobedience affected not only himself but future generations. The Amalekites were a Canaanite tribe who consistently opposed Israel from the exodus out of Egypt to the reign of David. God had ordered Saul to eradicate the Amalekites in a holy war. However, Saul spared Agag until the prophet Samuel voiced the Lord’s displeasure and then executed the Amalekite king. Saul’s failure to completely obey God allowed the Amalekites to survive and to continue to harm Israel. In these verses, we discover that in following God…

I. God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty! (Vv. 1-3)
1. The writer of Esther portrays King Xerxes as a man easily manipulated by others. The king had ordered his subjects to bow down as recognition of Haman’s status. The Hebrew verb means to fall on one’s knees and bow down. The important aspect was not the posture but the attitude it reflected. The word translated pay homage often is used to denote worship of deity. No doubt Haman’s vanity had influenced Xerxes to order this gesture. The narrative does not state why Mordecai refused to bow. His behavior throughout the story demonstrates his personal loyalty to the Persian king. So his refusal was not a sign of treachery. Nor can it be attributed to some Jewish law against bowing to other humans. The Scripture offers numerous examples of Jews’ bowing to other people: “Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites”, so he could bury his wife Sarah.  (Genesis 23:7 NIV) David honored King Saul after he could have easily killed him, “David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (1 Samuel 24:8 NIV) Those who sought audiences with the King of Israel, bowed before him in respect (2 Samuel 14:4). And Bathsheba bowed before David in order to garner his support for Solomon to be king (1 Kings 1:16). However, Mordecai had both religious and political reasons for steadfastly not bowing to Haman. Jewish tradition held that no self-respecting Jew would ever show reverence to an Amalekite. So Mordecai may have seen his refusal as conforming to God’s command to not honor false idols, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God!” (Exodus 20:5 NIV) Mordecai would have understood that the Persians saw such tribute as an act that bordered on acknowledging the honored individual was a god. In that case, bowing would have been idolatry. I would conclude Mordecai took the risk of offending Haman because he recognized God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty!

EXAMPLE: What risks have you taken lately for your faith, what risks are you willing to take? Many say they “love” Jesus and we all desire that He love us, but what has our love or His love motivated us to risk for His kingdom purposes. Do your co-workers, classmates, friends, neighbors and family members know you will not bow to the world’s ungodliness? Frank got up from the lunch table and walked out when one of fellow co-workers began telling a crude joke. The jokester snickered, “What a prude Frank is. He thinks he is better than us!” Art looked at him, stood up, and remarked, “No, perhaps he doesn’t appreciate your ungodly crude jokes, and in fact, neither do I.” Art then left the table. Later, as Art was working, the young man who had been telling the joke sought him out and apologized for his poor choice in jokes. He related that his wife did not appreciate his humor either and wondered why. Out of this conversation, this young man and his wife soon were attending Art’s church. Art had shared with him that as a Christian, we show our worship and loyalty to him even by the words we use. Just as Mordecai took the risk of offending Haman because he recognized God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty, we can as well!

Vowing revenge but scorning to lay hands on a single victim, Haman meditated on the extirpation of the whole Jewish race. He knew they were sworn enemies of his countrymen; and by artfully representing them as a people who were aliens in manners and habits, and enemies to the rest of his subjects, he procured the king’s sanction of the intended massacre. All because “Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.” Mordecai teaches us that…

II. Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

1. Mordecai’s loyalty to God in not bowing to Haman enraged the Persian. His anger revealed his true character. He was obsessed with his power and prestige and consequently craved constant human praise. His pride left no room for accepting less than unconditional adoration. Therefore, Haman resolved to kill Mordecai for not admiring him as much as he admired himself! The death of just one man would not satisfy Haman’s vanity. So great were his rage and his pride that he resolved in destroying every Jew in the Persian Empire. He believed only this result would be appropriate considering the so-called offense against him. The failed attempt to rid Persia of Jews is the primary plot of the Book of Esther. Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship. The hardship may affect the individual, God’s people, or both. In the case of Mordecai, it put him and all other Jews in danger. God’s people today sometimes confront hostility when they refuse to give others what God alone deserves. They are to remain steadfast and not allow opposition to lead them to compromise. On the other hand, God’s people must not blame an entire group for the actions of one member as some folks do when they decide to leave a church fellowship over their own personal pride being wounded. When Mordecai failed to show Haman the respect he desired, the Persian determined to eliminate all the Jews from the empire. When Haman cast lots to identify the proper time for his mass murder, it fell in line with God’s purposes. The Amalekites, not the Jews, would be annihilated. Afterwards the Festival of Purim was begun in celebration of the Jews’ deliverance by God from Haman’s evil plans. Haman had persuaded King Xerxes that the Jews threatened the Persian Empire’s national security. To these false accusations, Haman added a bribe and was able to accomplish his aims He obtained a royal decree setting aside a time for slaughtering the Jewish people. Haman’s scheme might have succeeded except for God’s providence. Mordecai’s cousin and adopted daughter was the Queen of Persia. God had placed Esther in a situation where she could make a difference if she trusted Him. When faced with a choice of either remaining complacent or standing for his beliefs, Mordecai learned that identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

EXAMPLE: Isn’t it interesting that Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that, your brother has something against you; leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24 NIV) Yet, far too often Christians act like the hated Haman and get easily offended when they are not properly recognized, bowed down to, or respected in the way they think they should be. What a contrast is Mordecai to Haman! Haman wanted and sought after human recognition, Mordecai sought only to honor God. Mordecai learned that identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

Conclusion:
God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty! Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermon Notes

Hebrews 6:13-20 – The steadfast anchor!

Hebrews 6:13-20 – The steadfast anchor!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 9, 2012 AM

Recently, during the Democratic National Convention, leaders were angrily booed by the delegates when they decided to insert the word “God” back into their party’s platform. In another startling note, President Barack Obama enjoys a massive lead over Mitt Romney among registered voters who say they have no religion whatsoever, according to the Gallup tracking poll of the presidential race. Why are these two things important? They remind us that when people do not have a spiritual core or an anchor in life they will drift away from God. The warning we need to heed is that as individuals go, so goes the nation they live in as well.

The writer of Hebrews wrote his sermon because he saw early Christians drifting away from their relationship with Jesus Christ. He warned them about their spiritual drift and he began to share with them the basics of their faith but now wanted to go into deeper theological water. As he did he knew that they would need to be reminded of the steadfast anchor in which they were to base their faith. Let’s discover what he teaches his listeners…

READ: Hebrews 6:13-20

In the 1951 Walt Disney cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland, a caterpillar asks Alice, “Who are you?” He wants to know from her why he should answer her questions. It is not an unfair question to ask. In fact, more people should be willing to ask why they should trust what a person says, especially during election season. Here in Hebrews we discover that we can trust God’s promise because…

I. God’s anchor is based on who he is! (Vv. 13-15)

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

1. The writer immediately states that “When God made his promise to Abraham” the promise that he would be the source of “many descendants,” there “was no one greater for him to swear by” so “he swore by himself!” This is important because God has the authority to make a promise secured by the fact that he made it! He is God! But why would the writer of Hebrews choose Abraham as an example? He used Abraham as a pattern, because he was the father of the Hebrews, and thereby of all believers. Also, Jewish believers were interested in the promise made to Abraham, and had a right to the same blessing as his descendants. The inference is that all Christians do as well! As Peter proclaimed on Pentecost, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39 NIV) And we also know that Abraham was remarkable for his faith and patience! Remember, he was married to Sarah! “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” Of course the “patience” Abraham displayed was waiting so long for a son, from whom the Messiah would eventually come! When God promises he will do something in our lives he does it but how long are we willing to endure until he completes his promise? Abraham’s promise was not fulfilled until Jesus was born, several thousands of years later. In fact, the promise of a son was not fulfilled until Abraham was quite old! Abraham never saw the final outcome in his lifetime but he remained confident, if not sometimes humanly dubious, that God would do exactly what he said he would do because God’s anchor is based on who he is!

EXAMPLE: I was surprised the other day when I received a phone call by a telemarketer, who in a very thick accent tried to sell me something. I hung up on her. I was surprised because she immediately called me back and exclaimed, “Hey! You hung up on me!” I answered her, “Hey! I don’t know you!” she then said something that made me laugh out loud. She retorted, “You can trust me.” I reminded her that I had not just fallen off a turnip truck. That remark puzzled her and so I explained that I never buy anything over the phone, ever, from anyone at any time period. I then hung up. I do not know about you but I barely trust sales-folks I speak to face-to-face with let alone over the phone! How wonderful to learn we can trust in God’s promises because God’s anchor is based on who he is!

Knowing that we can trust God is the first step in trusting his promises. I learned at a very early age that if my dad promised something, he would do whatever it took to make sure his promises came true. Now, of course, there were times when he could not keep his promises, but he was always willing to share with us why. In a world of uncertainty and distrust, Hebrews reminds us that…

II. God’s oath is our assured anchor! (Vv. 16-18)

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.

1. We often incorrectly think that when we say we will “do” something, that should put an end to any argument concerning whether we will do it or not, but for some of us it does not. The reason is simple: Far too often we have the misconception that if we feel it or think it, then that is as good as doing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actions and character speak louder than mere words! There was a time when two people made an agreement and shook on it, it was a done deal. Nowadays, we often want contracts, lawyers, and witnesses to be involved! However, the writer notes that when “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” They would swear an oath according to God as their witness. They would swear by God! This is why it is so important to understand that God “confirmed” his promise with his own “oath.” By this it made “the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear” to Abraham’s “heirs of what was promised.” No one would dare argue against this because of who actually made the promise and the oath that was made! It “is impossible for God to lie!” God’s promise and his truthfulness are “two unchangeable things” we can rely on! Therefore, “we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged!” We know for certain we can trust Jesus is the Messiah because God promised Abraham, and God does not lie! God’s oath is our assured anchor!

EXAMPLE: I will never forget going into buy a used van and my wife had the salesman scurrying around looking for answers. When they gave us the figures on the van we were about to purchase, the figures did not add up. It was an supposed to be an interest-free loan but they kept tacking all kinds of “extras” onto the purchase price. My wife whipped out a pencil and flipped over the piece of paper the hand-written agreement was written on and began doing long division. She immediately pointed out their faulty math. Incredulous that she could figure it out so quickly using long division the salesman went to get the manager, who then tried to convince my skeptical spouse. I just sat back and enjoyed the show. They wanted us to shake hands immediately on a deal based on faulty math and my wife would have none of it. We both refused until they agreed to my wife’s terms. It was only after all the legal documents reflected my wife’s math, that we signed them and purchased the van. How much more wonderful therefore is it to learn that God’s oath is our assured anchor!

One of my favorite hymns is “It Is Well with My Soul,” by H G Spafford: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul… Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.” The writer of Hebrews reminds us that…

III. Jesus is our anchor! (Vv. 19-20)

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

1. Two of the most sought after things we run to, when the storms and threats of life besiege us, is a refuge from the turmoil and a fortress from the invader. This is the graphic language used by the writer of Hebrews! We can take hold of the hand of hope held out to us by the promise of God to Abraham. Why? Because, “We have this hope as an anchor for our soul,” a quiet haven that is “firm and secure,” like the mighty stone seawalls of a fortified city harbor! We can put down our anchor and rest from the buffeting waves of doubt because God has given us a haven of rest! His Messiah promised to Abraham and it was culminated in Jesus! So much so that this assurance “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf!” Our anchor has been dropped in the most secure and safest harbor of all, God’s inner sanctuary! The terminology here “recalls the role of sailors who leave their ship in a smaller craft in order to carry the anchor forward to a place where it can be firmly lodged!” (Bible Knowledge Commentary) Jesus has “entered on our behalf” the heavenly sanctuary where He functions as a High Priest forever, has given all believers a secure hope an anchorage from which the storms of life cannot shake it loose! Matthew Henry, a 17th Century commentator, wrote that our hope “is an anchor that is cast upon the rock, the Rock of ages. It does not seek to fasten in the sands, but enters within the veil, and fixes there upon Christ; he is the object, he is the anchor – hold of the believer’s hope.” Jesus is our anchor!

EXAMPLE: In our area there is a local church that has handed out literally thousands of little black and white bumper stickers that state “Only God.” While I know for certain that not everyone who has placed one of those stickers on their vehicle actually believes what it says, the placement of the statement is a testimony to God. We could argue that it has reduced God to a pithy two-word catch phrase, that those who place them on their bumpers may not be able to tell you why the statement is true, or that the witness is ruined when the driver speeds or runs a red light. However, I would like to think that those tiny stickers reflect the view that only God has the answers one seeks or that only God can save. But perhaps, in the light of today’s verses, we can now safely state with confidence that it is truly, “Only Jesus.” Only Jesus is our anchor!

Conclusion:
Hebrews has taught us that God’s anchor is based on who he is, God’s oath is our assured anchor, and Jesus is our anchor!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermon Notes